Photos from the Mount of Olives - Purim Day - Taken by Josh Wander

Photos from the Mount of Olives – Purim Day – Taken by Josh Wander

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IMG_5496The most common reaction when I tell someone that I live on the Mt. of Olives is, “live people live there?”

Indeed the mount is currently the home to thousands of “living” Jews amongst the tens of thousands of our ancient ancestral graves. It is exactly that dichotomy (and of course its close proximity to the holy Temple Mount) that makes it such a unique and special place to live.

When we moved here, we told everyone that we honestly believed that the place chose us, not the other way around. It’s not for everyone. Living in a cemetery. Living next to hostile neighbors. Living around a location that the three major world religions consider to be holy. The constant sound of church bells and muezzins caused us long ago to nickname Jerusalem, “the city of the bells and yells”. As time goes by you get desensitized to those sounds and hardly notice them. It’s the “other” sounds that you never get used to. The sounds of stun grenades, violent rioters calling for your death and stones hitting the grating around your children’s nursery school.

I personally believe this is somewhat of a utopia and love every minute of living here. It’s a very close knit community that always tries to help one another. Tons of children always playing in the courtyard and Torah scholars living in our midst. Of course our community is closed. I like to refer to it as “a gated community.” My teenage son prefers to call it, “a refugee camp.” I guess it’s a matter of perspective…

Last week, on Purim Day we were celebrating this joyous holiday with wine and feast. All of a sudden, I get a message on my phone telling me that the cemetery is being desecrated. Normally, if this would happen in any civilized place, with a normal rule of law, the police would be called and they would come out and arrest the vandals. Perhaps I neglected to mention that I don’t live in a “civilized place with a normal rule of law”. I dropped everything and ran out to the street with several of my neighbors.

It’s what I saw next, documented by photos and videos that shocked me to the depths of my soul. Dozens of Arabs youths, with their faces covered, were smashing Jewish graves all over the southeastern side of the mountain. It was a scene that was reminiscent of Nazi Germany, Khmelnytsky Cossacks or other anti-Semitic cultures throughout our bitter history. But this wasn’t happening in the Ukraine, Poland or Germany. It was happening in the middle of the capital of the State of Israel!

To make matters worse, the Israeli police, that are supposedly there to protect us from such disgusting criminal behavior, just watched as this was all happening! It took me a few seconds to understand what was going on and we decided that this was totally unacceptable. We entered the cemetery and chased after the rioters. They ran away from us and only then did the police make a decision to intercede. Meanwhile, what we saw strewn over the sidewalks and streets could have literally been a scene from Kristallnacht. Dozens of Jewish graves had been desecrated and vandalized. Their stones lay across the way to bear witness of this terrible deed.

Now without becoming too political or pointing fingers at one government official or another. One thing is clear, EVERY Israeli government, right and left says the same thing. “Jerusalem is the united eternal capital of Israel”. They talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk! Here on the ground things look much different than on the campaign trail. Here, there’s little grey area behind the deadly rocks and Molotov cocktails that are thrown at us.

The fact is that seeing a Jewish cemetery violated by anti-Semitic hooligans anywhere in the world, would be immediately condemned in a most forceful manner. Unfortunately here in our homeland, it seems to be just a fact of life.